Gov't urged to 'look carefully' at manufacturing's survival

By NATARIO McKENZIE Tribune Business Reporter nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net A LEADING Bahamian bottled water manufacturer yesterday urged the Government to "look very carefully at how we can survive", as it kicked off a brand relaunch on the sixth anniversary of its purchase by the existing owners. Aquapure's operations manager Geoffrey Knowles told Tribune Business that the Government needed to look at ways to help Bahamian bottled water companies survive. While Aquqpure's revenues were increasing slightly, the growth was not as much as hoped, mainly due to fierce competition from foreign bottled water companies such as Nestle, who he said controlled 30 per cent of the small package business. Mr Knowles told Tribune Busines that while Aquapure still enjoyed a strong brand image and loyal customer base, its position was being threatened mainly by increasing foreign competition. He said: We're increasing our revenue slightly, though not as much as we had hoped, mainly because of the importation of foreign water. Nestle has 30 per cent of the small package business and that is significant. "Nestle is very aggressive when it comes to water. They decided to get into the business about 10-12 years ago and bought out a lot of companies. If we are not careful, we'll get swamped. In terms of product we compete very well with Nestle. The only thing we can't compete on is points of scale. They have got millions of dollars to throw behind technology which we don't have." Aquapure employs 125 people, a number that is expected to increase to 135 in the summer when business picks up. Mr Knowles said that the company's complete rebranding, featuring new consumer-focused packaging, was aimed at letting consumers know Aquapure is here to stay. Mr Knowles said: "This is the sixth anniversary. We have made a lot of headway over the years. We have invested a significant amount of money upgrading the facilities - the physical plant, equipment, staff training, trucks and the works. "The whole look of the product is changing to take it to a world-class look and to let people know that Aquapure is alive and well. We're going to put a lot of emphasis on marketing. We do a really good product; we take it very seriously." Mr Knowles added: "We test the water on an hourly basis, every source of it. We pull our water from 350 feet. We don't mess with the water table. We run it through two processes of reverse osmosis and bring it down to a TDS of between 20 and 30. "It has been found that the best tasting water, the TDS is between 20 and 30 parts per million. We feel we have the safest water in the world, and we want to let the Bahamian people know we are here to stay. We are fighting hard, there's a lot of competition, but we think we can deal with the competition. But we need some help from government." Mr Knowles said that if the Government was going to help bottled water manufacturers, it could look at reducing the duty on materials manufacturers use. Mr Knowles said: "We pay a variety of duties. We don't mind that, everyone has to contribute. The Government has to look very carefully on how we survive. "Our electricity bill is high. We pay National Insurance, a significant amount; health insurance, significant amount; and we are dealing with a very low margin. If the Government is going to help us they need to look at the duties. On certain products I pay 45 per cent, on my trucks I pay 85 per cent. I have 26 trucks used only for water business." Minister of Financial Services, Ryan Pinder, who was at the relaunch, told Tribune Business: "We want to attract other manufacturers, and certainly Bahamian manufacturers, and help build them up. "This administration, and certainly my Ministry with the portfolio of industry, will work closely with manufacturers to provide them with the incentives to help them grow and flourish. "The manufacturing industry is a significant component of the labour force, and is a significant component of our job creation strategy. We have in our plan a commitment to lay out some of the foundational principles of lower cost energy," Mr Pinder added. "Energy and energy cost is an important issue to manufacturers. We as a government have a commitment to lower the cost of energy, which I think will assist local manufacturers in growing, freeing up some cash flow so they can invest in their company. "We want to take a good look at the Industries Encouragement Act, facilitating manufacturers and the incentives through the Act, but also maybe even looking at how the Act can be applied in non-traditional manufacturing to help bolster the industry."


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